Halabja 25 Years On
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th March, 2013
The name Halabja, like Auschwitz and Srebrenica, is etched in the mind, yet it is hard to picture the place until one goes there. The photos one sees of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s evil regime show closeups of bodies lying in narrow streets or on doorsteps. Gwynne Roberts’ films of the Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds feature smoke plumes rising from hillsides. So it was disconcerting yesterday, when I was a member of a large international solidarity delegation visiting Halabja yesterday for the 25th anniversary commemoration, to be taken to a nondescript place clearly in the plain and dominated by a museum-monument to the tragedy. Inside were lifesize maquettes mimicking the photos that I know so well, as well as lists of names of the 5,000 dead. Nearby a vast marquee had been erected, in which various dignitaries gave speeches. When the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke there was a silent but effective demonstration by a dozen or so young locals, who held up small xeroxed signs with slogans calling for a distinct Halabja Governate and better opportunities for the areas youth. To his credit, Mr Barzani took the protesters head-on, saying that only the national government of Iraq in Baghdad can decide on creating new governates or provinces. But obviously the grievances of some locals are real in their eyes. And even if some visitors might have felt that it was inappropriate to take such action during an event of solemn commemoration, under the gaze of numerous TV cameras, there is a valid argument that we should not be so concerned with the horrors of the past that we ignore the needs of the present.